Ivory Tower Writing #23: Getting organized, part 1 – database and draft organization

While nobody likes to talk about their work process, especially writers, getting organized is perhaps one of the more underrated things that a writer (especially academics) has to do when starting or doing a writing project. For me, that means organizing my literature (books, journals, and even expert commentary), drafts (from rough drafts to pre-prints), and other stuff such as my notes, pictures, or graphs. Every now and then, I would sometimes have to stop writing halfway just to look up a reference. This constant moving back and forth from article to draft and vice-versa is tedious, although in my case, it helps me think better.

Surely, not all of my recommendations here might work for you. Since writing is a personal process, you should spend some time trying to find your own workflow. My advice here is mostly directed towards undergraduates, who often have to juggle different essays for different courses. In this post, I’ll show you how to organize your literature and drafts.

A quick disclaimer: throughout the post, you will see references to third-party software. I don’t get paid to advertise the software you see. I used them, in my personal capacity, and what you’re reading are my honest opinions of the software.

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Book Review: 75 Tahun TNI – Evolusi Ekonomi Pertahanan, Operasi, dan Organisasi Militer Indonesia, 1945-2020

How and why do military organisations change, especially in a post-colonial state?

This is the big question that Evan Laksmana, Iis Gindarsah, and Curie Maharani attempt to answer in their newest publication, 75 Tahun TNI: Evolusi Ekonomi Pertahanan, Operasi, dan Organisasi Militer Indonesia, 1945-2020.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from CSIS Indonesia. It’s a rather hefty publication, topping 300 pages which is chock full of datasets and loads of secondary sources. It would need to be so, as the authors try to prove at least four different hypotheses on military change in Indonesia. The book is written in Bahasa Indonesia, so I will translate many of the direct quotes in the book for the purpose of this review. The authors have hinted at a possible English translation, but that might take some time.

In this review, I look at the main contributions of the book. I first examine where the book stands in terms of existing literature. I then discuss how the book adds to the existing debate, while also addressing some of the book’s few shortcomings.

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Seven months of online teaching: some updates

In the middle of March, my university decided to suspend face-to-face meetings and move everything online. It took me a while to get adjusted to the format and tempo of online classes (I’ve covered this in a previous post), but eventually, I got the hang of Discord, Google Meet, and even Moodle, where I do the bulk of my quizzes.

I really don’t feel like learning is happening. Most of my sessions are synchronous, i.e., students log into Meet and I deliver the day’s materials, often stopping for short bathroom breaks or to address questions. While this is no different from what I do in a live classroom, it just feels… awkward. I am talking to a screen, to a bunch of faces like I’m talking to the cast of the Brady Bunch. As I don’t enforce a “cams on” policy, it feels even more uncanny as I’m practically speaking to a bunch of letters on screen, unsure of whether I’m going too fast or I’ve lost the entire class’s attention. This makes me pause more often as I ask for clarification and to make sure everyone is on tracking. Teaching becomes a slog, not an enjoyable experience both for me and perhaps even more so for the students.  

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The Omnibus Law is an affront to democracy

Update: At the time of writing, the Omnibus Law on Job Creation was still being discussed in Parliament. By the time of publication, the Law has entered into force and approved by President Joko Widodo.

In the last few days, Indonesia has seen protests flaring up in major cities across the archipelago. From Jakarta to Parepare, workers and students have risen against the government, voicing and expressing their discontent with the Omnibus Law on Job Creation (Undang-Undang Cipta Kerja). The protests are on a scale like last year’s protests against a series of Bills, most notably a draft revision to Indonesia’s Criminal Code and the Law on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Their discontent is directed at many aspects of the pro-business omnibus law, such as its potentially detrimental effect on labour protection and environmental protections. The government has mostly dismissed these concerns and criticism as “hoaxes” and insists that the omnibus law would increase employment and attract investment, which is something the country needs to restart its pandemic-stricken economy.

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Jokowi’s UNGA speech: a squandered opportunity for Indonesia’s middle power diplomacy

During Jokowi’s first term, Jusuf Kalla would be the face of Indonesia in the UN General Assembly, where world leaders would meet for a week of intense, 24-hour diplomacy. Unlike the outgoing Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Jokowi is much more reluctant to make international appearances. He would give the same reason every time: he’d rather focus on solving domestic problems first. In the rare occasion that he would show up in an international forum, he would usually use it as a platform to advance Indonesia’s economic interests.

This time, it’s different. After skipping six UN assemblies, Jokowi finally decided to show up. Unlike previous UN assemblies, the 75th General Assembly allowed the use of pre-recorded messages. Perhaps this was why Jokowi finally wanted to make an appearance at the UN. He could attend the General Assembly without having to leave Indonesia, where he could continue to work on domestic problems. In fact, while the General Assembly continues to convene, Jokowi is busy dealing with food estates in Kalimantan.

Unfortunately, his speech leaves much to be desired.

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Man of Contradictions: understanding the enigma named Jokowi

Ben Bland’s recent book, Man of Contradictions, is touted as the “first English political biography” of Jokowi. There are two biographies of Jokowi in Indonesian, written by Alberthiene Endah. Other “semi-biographies”, such as “Jokoway” by Joko Sulistyo, are questionable at best, as they are written by active government staff. So, I was anticipating Bland’s biography to provide a more impartial picture of Jokowi’s governance.

Front cover of Man of Contradictions. Source: Penguin AU.

In this respect, it delivered. Drawing from his numerous interviews with Jokowi, Ben Bland manages to deliver a relatively impartial assessment of Jokowi’s governance over the years. His central thesis: to understand the enigma that is Jokowi, one must understand his contradictory nature.

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A non-Western view of why Thucydides shouldn’t be put on a pedestal (or a syllabus)

When I was a student back in Intro to IR, I confess I never even touched Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War, or even Machiavelli and Hobbes for that matter. The first so-called realist I was exposed to was Hans Morgenthau, and that was thanks to a translated version of Politics Among Nations (the copy which I never finished and I presume is lost). It was only when I started my MSc that I began to read the Peloponnesian War—mostly from Wikipedia and bits and bits from Donald Kagan’s four-volume work on the Peloponnesian War. Right now, I find Donald Kagan’s version to be much easier to follow than the original Thucydides.

For me, Thucydides was too heavy. Even with the help of maps, indexes, and annotations in Strassler’s Landmark Thucydides, I still found myself lost and not immersed in what Thucydides claimed as a “possession for all time”. Maybe I simply didn’t have the intellectual acuity to follow Thucydides’ magisterial work.

But this did not stop me from trying to assign parts of Thucydides in my syllabi.

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Le’ Notes #49: Foreign policy analysis – it all starts at home

So far, we’ve covered how foreign policy is formulated and executed by individuals or a small group of individuals. We’ve discussed how these individuals often do not make so-called rational decisions; instead, they are often influenced by their own outlooks of the world and their institutional interests.

But for most of the world, foreign policy is not always just dictated by individuals. This is not to say that these prominent individuals do not have any power. There are often many other parties that may restrain the extent of an individual’s (or a small group of individuals’) power. You might know these as domestic political institutions, and they play an important role in keeping democracies afloat.

In this post, we’ll explore the role these institutions play in shaping foreign policy. Note that here, I use the term “institutions” quite loosely to refer to the many domestic structures that exist in democracies, such as political parties. This doesn’t cover public opinion, interest groups or the media; that’ll be addressed in a later post.

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Le’ Notes #48: On the use of coast guards in Asia-Pacific

The coast guard—specifically the US Coast Guard—is usually the butt of jokes in the military. Their job is like the Navy, but with smaller boats, guns, and less action (even though there were some moments where the USCG did shine). 

Jokes aside, coast guards are an important asset in maritime security. They handle maritime security at home, dealing with the “small” stuff so the navy can handle the bigger threats out there in the high seas. The Coast Guard’s role is largely tied to law enforcement: policing territorial waters and keeping them safe from illegal fishing, pirates, human traffickers, and drug smugglers. Recently, coast guards have started to take on more expanded roles, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. The Chinese Coast Guard has been making headlines lately due to their increased presence (and aggressiveness) in the South China Sea which adds on to the regional tensions. This has been followed by the expansion of other coast guards, such as Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam.

As interest in and use of coast guards will likely increase in the near future, I’ll be reviewing the literature to understand how coast guards have been used as a tool of statecraft over the years. I’ll focus more on the Asia-Pacific, since that’s where coast guards are getting more attention.

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